[lg policy] New York Schools Struggle With New Rules to Help Students Learning English
haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon May 9 11:42:25 EDT 2016
New York Schools Struggle With New Rules to Help Students Learning English
By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS
Continue reading the main story
Agata Majchrzak, a general education teacher, left, works with third
graders alongside Hallie Sacca, who specializes in English as a new
language, at Public School 160 in Brooklyn. The teaching setup meets new
state requirements. Credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times
In a bright classroom at Public School 160 <http://www.ps160k.com/Page/1>
in Borough Park, Brooklyn, three teachers orbited 28 students, 21 of whom
were still learning English.
One teacher, trained to teach English as a new language, drew pictures to
go along with words on a whiteboard: a sweater next to “seamstress,” an
apple next to “farm.” A table by the door was littered with work sheets
about firefighters and teachers that included words in English, Chinese and
Uzbek, along with colorful pictures all the third graders could understand.
This is what a classroom for children learning English is supposed to look
like according to New York State’s new regulations, which cover everything
from how those students are identified to what kinds of teachers they are
The reality, however, is trailing far behind.
“I’m telling you, the whole city is out of compliance,” Evelyn DeJesus, a
vice president at the United Federation of Teachers <http://www.uft.org/>, said
in a publication <http://www.uft.org/news-stories/devil-details> put out by
the New York City teachers’ union this year. “It’s like the Wild West out
The regulations are a broad effort to improve the academic standing and
progress of students learning English, who are far behind their peers.
Statewide, only 34 percent of them graduate on time, less than half the
rate for those who already speak the language. In New York City, more than
10 percent of students are English language learners.
Shamsun Nahar, who came to the city from Bangladesh in 2013, said her elder
son was among those who needed the help: An 18-year-old student at a high
school in the Bronx, he still has difficulty with English, which has left
him socially isolated and could keep him from graduating on time.
“The whole point of our struggling to be able to come here and raise our
family here, to leave everything behind, is primarily because of
education,” Ms. Nahar said through a translator at a South Asian
organization called DRUM <http://www.drumnyc.org/>. Yet her son, she said,
is “already being left behind.”
Rows of dual-language books sit in a room in P.S. 160. Parents can take
them home to read to their children. Credit Jake Naughton for The New York
Among the most significant changes is that schools must now have an English
language teacher — like the woman drawing pictures at P.S. 160 — in the
classroom for part of each week if even one student is learning English. In
the past, students could receive English language instruction outside of
the classroom, while spending the rest of their time in a regular class
trying to puzzle out the words on their own.
Another shift requires schools and districts to create programs in which
classes are taught in two languages. These bilingual programs will now be
offered to students who are new to the public system, as long as there are
enough children in one place who speak the same tongue.
But finding teachers who are both bilingual and licensed in relevant areas
can be difficult.
Take Bengali, for example. It is the fourth most common language among
pupils learning English in the city’s public schools. But there are only
three bilingual Bengali programs in the schools.
“I have been talking to anybody who knows of a teacher who speaks the
language so we can recruit,” Milady Baez, a deputy chancellor in the
said with a hint of desperation. “It is very, very difficult.”
Ms. DeJesus, of the teachers’ union, said she thought almost every city
school needed to hire one or two teachers, which would put the numbers
required in the “thousands.”
And the new rules came with very little in the way of resources — $1
million for the entire state, which has left schools scrambling.
Angelica Infante-Green, a deputy commissioner at the state’s Education
Department <http://www.nysed.gov/>, said she did not yet know how many more
teachers were needed.
Margaret Russo, the principal of P.S. 160, said meeting the new state
requirements was “a challenge for us.” Credit Jake Naughton for The New
“There is a shortage; we do understand there is a shortage,” Ms.
Infante-Green said. “This is the first year of the regulation and we’re not
looking to sanction anyone this year, but we expect people to be on track,”
she continued. “We expect kids to be getting as much of what they’re
entitled to as possible.”
The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has started 88
bilingual programs and hopes to offer at least 50 more beginning in fall
2017, Ms. Baez said. The city plans to spend $40 million to meet the new
requirements in the next school year.
Both city and state education officials said they were working with
colleges and education schools to try to recruit more language teachers
and, in some cases, paying to get teachers licensed. But the shortage has
been building for years. Education officials and family advocates say that
as large failing schools were closed and replaced with smaller schools
during the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, many bilingual
programs disappeared because schools no longer had the number of students
necessary to sustain them.
Union rules are also a hurdle: If teachers switch licenses to become
English language specialists, they lose their seniority, which could make
them vulnerable when a school trims its staff. City education and union
officials say they are discussing ways to change that.
At P.S. 160, more than 1,000 of its 1,400 students are classified as
learning English. Most speak one of several Chinese dialects, but a
potpourri of other languages are spoken as well, including Uzbek, Russian,
Urdu and Arabic. One third grader, whose formal schooling has been
inconsistent, speaks Portuguese and Toisanese, a Chinese dialect.
Yet P.S. 160 is probably far ahead of many schools because it had been
meeting some of the requirements before they came into effect. Teachers of
English as a new language were integrated into general education classes,
with more than 10 of them already on staff. The school also had a full-time
staff member coordinating the English language efforts.
Margaret Russo, the school’s principal, said P.S. 160 still had to hire
five teachers of English as a new language to comply with the regulations.
“We were in a good place when this came down,” Ms. Russo said, “and it was
still a challenge for us.”
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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